Monthly Archives: October 2010

Hedge Fun

Our usual spot for blackberry picking wasn’t exactly heaving with mellow fruitfulness this year, but we managed to harvest enough for a couple of jars of jam before S. was distracted by a gate with a sign reading DANGER BULL IN FIELD.

The danger bull, much to our disappointment, was nowhere to be seen.

Pizza

It took me about three years to make a decent pizza.

My earliest efforts contained far too much dough and were much too thick. My problems were compounded by attempting to bake the pizzas on the serving dish pictured above, to which, unsurprisingly, they would unfailingly stick (and which, incidentally, was purloined for me by a third party from the venerable Bray pizza joint Pizzas’n’Cream). The results were gargantuan hubcaps of turgid, indigestible foam that had to be pried with considerable effort from the dish, leaving behind most of what might have passed for crust.

These gravid, airless discs of gluten, these abhorrent cow pats of cheese-topped sponge, though they were stoically consumed by S., would not have been recognised by any Mediterranean native as pizza, or even, for that matter, as food.  They would have been put to better use as durable pillows for the homeless, or as knee-pads for sherpas.

Not only did S. have to choke these things down without complaint, she had to endure, often simultaneously, the lengthly post mortems I would be compelled to conduct. These were rancorous, rambling affairs, soliloquys of failure and self-loathing.

My wilderness years were brought to a merciful end by our acquisition, in which order I can’t quite recall, of the following items.

1. The SMEG oven, which is shiny, beautifully engineered and–crucially–goes up to 280 °C.

2. Some non-stick pizza dishes.

3. The Silver Spoon, which is, according to its own blurb, the “authentic bible of Italian cooking”, and which contains a recipe for pizza dough that is exquisitely simple and utterly infallible, and which, with some modifications, appears below.

Pizza

Ingredients

120 ml tepid water

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 glug extra virgin olive oil

250 g flour (you can use fancy pizza flour if you wish, but I get very good results using plain flour)

1 7 g sachet of dried yeast

Method

1. Add the sugar and the yeast to the tepid water. Leave to stand for 15 minutes, or until the mixture is nice and frothy.

2. Add the flour to the bowl of your mixer of choice. Mine, as I believe I have mentioned, is the stupendous Kenwood Chef Platinum, but any good mixer with a dough hook will do.

3. Add the salt.

4. Pour in the yeast mixture.

5. Add the olive oil.

6. Knead for five or six minutes, until you have a nice elastic dough. You may need to adjust, carefully, the proportions of flour and water until the mixture is neither too wet (and leaving slime on the surface of the bowl) or too dry (and not coalescing).

7. Cover with a damp tea towel or some oiled kitchen paper for an hour, or until doubled in size. The longer the better, really.

8. When it’s ready, simply scoop it out and transfer it to a floured work surface. Some recipes call for knocking back at this point, but I find pizzas much easier to roll out when the dough is fully risen and relaxed.

9. Feel free to spin the pizza out by hand in true Neapolitan style if you have the skill and can be bothered, neither of which applies in my case. I use a rolling pin, and it works fine. Form a ball first and flatten into a disc just a little larger than your pizza dish.

10. Oil the pizza dish and gently fit your dough so that it overlaps the entire circumference by about 3 cm. Gently fold this excess back towards the centre to form a nice crust. Allow to rise for another hour or two before topping in accordance with your whims.

11. If your whims involve chunks of pineapple or sweetcorn, ignore them. Try to have different whims.

12. Pre-heat your oven to 280 °C, then bake the pizza for 8 minutes or so. As with anything baked at very high temperatures, keep an eye on it; you may need to take it out early.

Thyme to Die

 

While I realise that dried thyme has its adherents, I take the view that it is better preserved, outside the growing season, in the freezer.

As well as capturing more of the herb’s aromatic qualities, freezing thyme in a box like the one pictured above has the singular advantage of making it very easy to use when needed.

If you leave the thyme on the stem, the individual leaves are very easily shaken loose when frozen. So, when you need a teaspoonful for your mashed potatoes, you just take out your freezer box, perform a quick, maraca-style shake, and said quantity can be scooped from the bottom of the box with serene ease.

Hence today’s annual harvest, which left the plant with enough growth to stage a recovery in the spring, not to mention an endearing resemblance to Ernie from Sesame Street.

Shrewd Food

I am indebted to Shrewd Food for the nobly simple and obvious concept of “fruit bowl jam”.

The idea is that you spare, from their fate on the compost heap, the dubious and imperfect specimens that tend to lurk at the bottom of the fruit bowl towards the end of the week, and use them to make small quantities of what may speculatively be termed “jam”.

I used five or six nectarines d’un certain âge and a fistful of sugar to make an admittedly runny preserve (I’m not sure how much pectin there is in nectarines, relatively speaking), which may not have been ideally suited to toast, but which nonetheless served to enliven my porridge for the rest of the week.

And enlivening one’s porridge is surely, in this day and age, an uncontroversial delight.